2016 MLS Cup

Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas previews MLS Cup and Seattle Sounders' title aspirations

Editor’s Note: In anticipation of the Seattle Sounders first-ever appearance in the MLS Cup Final on Saturday (5 p.m. PT; FOX/UniMas/KIRO 97.3 FM/El Rey 1360AM), SoundersFC.com’s Nick Firchau spoke with Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas about the Sounders’ surprising 2016 turnaround, the most enticing personnel matchup against Toronto FC and what it would mean to Seattle – and MLS fans everywhere – if the Sounders win the Cup.

SoundersFC.com: I have a text from you in my phone from Aug. 11 that says “See you in the playoffs … Epic MLS run coming. I smell it.” You didn’t really see this coming for the Sounders, did you?

Lalas: I think you caught me on a day when I was being benevolent (laughs). And for my Seattle friends up there, I was making them feel better about their situation.

But here’s the thing. This whole narrative that this is a Cinderella type of story? I get it when you compare the two halves of the season and yes, they look very, very different. But this isn’t just some Podunk type of team out there. This is the Seattle Sounders, alright? This is a team that for many years now has spent a tremendous amount of money and thumped their chests and made me and many others take notice. And that’s a good thing; that’s a beautiful arrogance.

But I don’t know if I anticipated Jordan Morris doing what he did or to the extent that he did it. And that’s a testament to him and the faith the Sounders put in him, because he grabbed ahold of that opportunity. And I didn’t anticipate the impact that Nicolas Lodeiro was going to have on the field, dramatically changing the way the team actually plays the game.

SoundersFC.com: So many Designated Players struggle in their first season in MLS, especially if they arrive midseason. But he’s exceeded just about every expectation.

Lalas: MLS is littered with a history of players who have come in – very good players – and struggled off the bat. Lodeiro hit the ground running. I guess you could compare it to what Didier Drogba did with Montreal last year, but I think what Lodeiro has done is even more impressive because of the way he’s done it and the team he’s done it with. It’s not just the goals or the assists, it’s almost as if this team has fed off his energy. It’s an inspired signing and he’s everything they want, and there’s no way in hell that they would be in this situation nor would Brian Schmetzer be at the head coach’s podium talking about MLS Cup right now.

SoundersFC.com: Is there an unsung hero on this Sounders team?

Lalas: Cristian Roldan. I watched him last year and I thought, “Meh, he’s an average player, but I don’t see a real future.” I certainly didn’t anticipate this kind of impact from him. You can tell this is a guy who is getting better by the day and lapping up the experience and the environment. If there was a “Most Improved” award that MLS handed out, he would win it, hands down. He’s not a completely different player, but the speed at which he has progressed is pretty amazing. He’s another one of those guys who just grabbed an opportunity with both hands.

SoundersFC.com: What is the matchup you’ll be watching that will determine the outcome of the game on Saturday?

Lalas: You have a guy like Jozy Altidore, who is just killing it right now and just looks so confident. He’s using his body and he’s harnessed that power consistently for a good period of time. And you have Roman Torres and Chad Marshall at different times matching up with Altidore. That’s heavyweight stuff. That’s a slugfest situation that I love. For Jozy, he’s at the top of his game with the way he’s playing, but you have two guys at the center back position who love to mix it up, especially Torres. And they have the frames to mix it up.

So do you match brute force with brute force? Or do you try and get more cerebral and get into the physical stuff? All those thoughts … it’s a matchup I’m really excited to see.

SoundersFC.com: If you were building an MLS team from scratch tomorrow and you could only take one guy, who would you take: Michael Bradley or Osvaldo Alonso?

Lalas: That’s a tough one. I still fall on the Bradley side. But he’s been hurt by playing out of position and being asked to do things he’s not comfortable with, both for club and country. If both players are in defined positions and they’re in their comfort zone, I give it to Bradley by a hair. But Ozzie Alonso does so many good things. And they’re both leaders, but in different ways. I think I go with Bradley, but it’s a close one.

SoundersFC.com: Which fan base has suffered more up to this point, and which market would an MLS Cup title mean more to?

Lalas: Well, those are two different questions. I think that Toronto has suffered more, but it would mean more to Seattle to win. We have two teams here that for the last 10 years have not been able to get to the promised land. Toronto had much more futility and yes, Seattle won the Open Cups, but nobody cares about Open Cups, let’s be honest. It’s all about MLS Cup. These are two wannabe super clubs, and if you’re going to be a super club, you gotta have that moment - that iconic moment when you win an MLS Cup, the captain is holding up the cup, the confetti is falling, the music’s playing. That’s the image burned into your fan base’s heads. You spend a lot of money, you talk big, but ultimately, when the day is done, you win the big one. And until you do that, you are not a super club.

Both of these clubs need that to validate themselves and what they’ve tried to become. For Seattle, it would be much more impactful. Can you imagine the Seattle Sounders and their fan base as champions of Major League Soccer? (laughing) I cannot comprehend why the soccer gods would make us spend the entirety of next year dealing with the Seattle Sounders fan base if they won. Can you imagine? This year of all years, and off the back of Portland doing it last year, and this come-from-behind mentality. You would have to hear about that all year. I just don’t think I can deal with that.

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